Monday, April 12, 2010

Before It Ends, Schools ‘Race’ Is a Success

A GREAT editorial in the NYT:

 April 8, 2010


Before It Ends, Schools 'Race' Is a Success

Critics of the Obama administration's signature education initiative have been breathing fire since it was announced that only Delaware and Tennessee had won first-round grants under the program, known as Race to the Top. Politicians from some losing states have denounced the well-designed scoring system under which the 16 finalists were evaluated. Others have thrown up their hands, suggesting that retooling applications for the next round is more trouble than it's worth.

Plenty of states will line up for the remaining $3.4 billion. But even if the program ended today, it already has had a huge, beneficial effect on the education reform effort, especially at the state and local levels.

To qualify for federal grants, states needed to build a consensus among school districts and unions in support of important innovations. States, for example, need to encourage the creation of high-performing charter schools and develop strategies for turning around chronically failing schools. They need to establish data-driven systems to train and evaluate teachers and principals.

To apply for grants, state political leaders and education officials had to confer with the leaders of local school districts in ways that were often new to them. Even for states that don't get grants, the new contacts and conversations will be helpful as education reform moves forward.

More than a dozen states adopted new laws intended to comply with the rules of the program. And it clearly has broadened interest in the rigorous new national standards proposed last month by the National Governors Association and a group representing state school superintendents. That atmosphere could give the new standards, which reflect what students must know to succeed at college and to find good jobs in the 21st century, a real chance of gaining broad acceptance.

Finally, the competition has spotlighted successful reforms that deserve to be emulated. Consider the teacher evaluation and training program proposed in Delaware, which recognizes that the state cannot create a high-performing teacher corps simply by firing struggling teachers. The state's political leadership has gained broad support for a system that will hold teachers responsible for improving student performance but provide intensive coaching and feedback to help them master the job.

The Race to the Top initiative won't solve this country's education problems by itself, but it is focusing attention on the right issues and moving them up the national agenda.

 Subscribe in a reader